By Nathan Petrashek
With the red-hot Cubs easily leading the NL Central with a .750 win percentage, these seem like dark days for the 16-22 Brewers. Fair to say there won’t be October baseball in Milwaukee, but there remains the matter of whether the Brewers can generate a sufficient number of wins to keep fans at least semi-engaged with the team throughout the summer. In that spirit, today we’ll look at two players who were relative unknowns coming into the season, but have found themselves thrust into important roles throughout April and May.
We’ll begin with infielder Colin Walsh, a Rule 5 pickup from the Oakland Athletics this winter. Walsh has bounced around the St. Louis Cardinals and Athletics organizations since he was drafted in the 13th round in 2010. He’s performed reasonably well at every minor-league level, but has played very little baseball above the AA level prior to this season. Walsh’s claim to fame is that he’s an on-base machine, taking a remarkable 124 walks in 2015 with Oakland’s AA affiliate (.447 OBP).
That on-base trend had continued in 2016 with the Brewers, where Walsh has taken a base on balls in 14 of his 58 plate appearances (.328 OBP). Unfortunately, that is about the only aspect of Walsh’s offensive profile that has translated to the major league level. While Walsh was regularly hit well over .250 in the minor leagues, he sports an unsightly .093 batting average on the season, with just one extra base hit. Power has never been Walsh’s strong suit, but he did display some pop in the minors, so there’s reason to expect Walsh to improve in that regard and from a contact perspective.
The big question is whether he will stick around long enough for that to happen. As a Rule 5 pick, Walsh has to remain on the MLB roster or be offered back to the Athletics. Walsh received plenty of starts at 3B at the beginning of the season, but with Scooter Gennett back and Aaron Hill now manning third, his playing time has steadily decreased and he has been mostly relegated to pinch hitting duty (where, as alluded to earlier, very little hitting has occurred). The Brewers may opt to keep Walsh around as a super utility flier, but there’s very little justification for his presence otherwise on the 25-man roster.
Conversely, Alex Presley has seen his playing time increase steadily as a result of strong early returns from the 30-year old outfielder. Logging starts at all three outfield positions, including most recently left field, Presley has slashed .267/.348/.433 through 69 plate attempts, including a double and 3 home runs. His .167 ISO is as good as or better than in any of his other major league seasons, and with a .283 BABIP, there remains slight room for improvement. In wRC+ terms, Presley has been league average this season, which is not bad for a bench bat occasionally forced into starting duty.
The key to Presley’s success appears to be his ability to keep the ball off the ground. Presley for his career has typically hit about half his batted balls on the ground, but he’s managed to convert about 10% of those this year to fly balls. If Presley can continue that trend, as well as something close to his current 11.6% walk rate, throughout the course of the season, Brewers fans might do well to keep an eye on his at bats.